Former Utah County commissioner sentenced to probation for posing as Mormon official in fraud scheme

Gary Jay Anderson must pay $162,606 in restitution over five years, a judge ordered.<br>

(Pool photo) Gary Anderson talks with defense attorney Nathan Crane during the case of the State v. Anderson on Thursday, May 25, 2017 at the Matheson Courthouse in Salt Lake City.

A former Utah County commissioner has been sentenced to five years probation, including paying $162,606 in restitution, for his role in a scam that involved him and another businessman posing as Mormon officials to fool companies into investing in an industrial park and rail line.

Gary Jay Anderson, 70, pleaded guilty in May to one count of communications fraud, a second-degree felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Three other charges — all second-degree felonies — were dismissed as part of the deal. 

“I appreciate the court’s consideration in this matter, and I want to say I’m so sorry,” Anderson said through tears during his Friday sentencing hearing. “I’m so ashamed.”

Anderson avoided incarceration as part of the plea agreement, so long as he was able to come up with a chunk of the total restitution by his sentencing date. Prosecutors had recommended no more than six months in jail if Anderson paid $15,000 by his sentencing, and no jail time if he came up with $25,000. 

(Pool photo) From left, prosecuting attorney Jacob Taylor hands documents to defense attorney Nathan Crane as he stands beside Gary Anderson during the case of the State v. Anderson on Thursday, May 25, 2017 at the Matheson Courthouse in Salt Lake City.

Anderson did come up with the $25,000 to allow him to avoid jail time, but 3rd District Judge Vernice Trease expressed concern about how much future restitution he could afford to pay on a monthly basis. 

“He has known his license was going to be taken away; that was part of the plea agreement,” Trease said Friday. ”Anderson needs to find a job. Or two jobs. Or three jobs.”

The reason to put someone on probation rather than order jail time is to allow them the ability to pay restitution, Trease noted.

“Someone is out of a lot of money, and Anderson — especially given his background — knows better,” Trease said.

Anderson, an attorney, voluntarily surrendered his law license as part of the plea deal. And, as of Friday, he hadn’t found a job, although he planned to do so, according to his defense team. But not knowing what his monthly income will be complicated the process of deciding how much Anderson could reasonably pay in restitution every month.

Trease ultimately ordered Anderson pay a minimum of $1,000 a month for the remainder of his probation. If he can’t afford it, his children have agreed to make up the difference, according to defense attorney Richard Van Wagoner.

If he is unable to pay off the restitution in five years, his court-supervised probation will be extended, the judge said.  

Anderson didn’t come away from the scam with a pile of cash, Van Wagoner said, adding that Anderson actually lost a substantial amount of money in the scheme, and that’s ”part of the reason he’s in the hole he’s in.”

Anderson and his wife lost $170,000 they had given to McKee out of their retirement funds, Van Wagoner said. 

“I‘ve gotten to know Gary personally, and what he did was stupid and foolish, but he has a big heart,” Van Wagoner said, adding: ”He is a good man.”

Anderson and his partner in crime, Alan Dean McKee, each were charged in February 2016 with three counts of second-degree felony communications fraud and one count of second-degree felony engaging in a pattern of unlawful activity. 

Anderson, of Springville and 58-year-old McKee, of Benjamin, impersonated authorities from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — including creating a phone account in an LDS apostle’s name — as part of a scheme that defrauded two individuals and a construction company out of $1.26 million, according to charging documents.

The defendants claimed the funds were going to be used to set up a rail line and industrial park on land owned by the LDS Church in Elberta, south of Utah lake.  

In his plea, Anderson admitted making phone calls to an investor in May 2015, posing as another person. Defense attorney Nathan Crane said in May that McKee had deceived Anderson, who got involved in the scam — which took place from 2012 to 2015 — near the end.

McKee was charged in August 2016 with committing new crimes while free on $25,000 bail that were similar to the charges he already was facing. He pleaded guilty in the first case to one count of engaging in a pattern of illegal activity and guilty in the second case to theft, both second-degree felonies.

McKee was sentenced in November 2016 to two concurrent terms of 1 to 15 years in prison and later ordered to pay nearly $1,269,000 in restitution. Four other charges were dismissed as part of a plea bargain.